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Tiger a balm to field for Match Play event

Citizen Staff Writer



Wade Dunagan was on the golf course when he heard the news that beats a hole-in-one or a round of 60 any day. Judy McDermott started to cry.

Tiger Woods isn’t saving the Accenture Match Play Championship in Marana. But overjoyed local officials said his return next week from knee surgery will put Tucson in the world golf spotlight and help sell tickets.

“I never gave up hope,” said Dunagan, the Match Play executive director, who had been nervously waiting for weeks for Tiger’s affirmative. “As I have said before, he likes Tucson from his college days (at Stanford) and he has a close association with Accenture.”

“My hair stood on end and I began to cry,” said McDermott, executive director of the Tucson Conquistadores.

Woods announced Thursday afternoon he will defend his Match Play title, saying his reconstructed left knee and his game are fit enough to play after a 253-day absence from golf.

The world’s No.1-ranked player last played in a competitive round at the U.S. Open on June 16, 2008, when he beat Rocco Mediate on the first hole of sudden-death after an 18-hole Monday playoff failed to produce a winner.

“I expect a surge in tickets now,” Dunagan said, “and this gives our tournament more recognition.”

Match Play will feature the world’s top 64 pros from 16 countries at the new Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain. Practice begins Monday, with bracket play starting Wednesday.

Woods is set to play Australia’s Brendan Jones in the first round, unless someone withdraws. Justin Rose is one possibility because his wife is expecting their first child any day. If that happens, first alternate Richard Green of Australia would face Woods.

Woods, the father of a son born Feb. 8, posted the initial news on his Web site.

“Elin and our new son Charlie (Axel) are doing great,” Woods wrote. “I’ve enjoyed my time at home with the family and appreciate everyone’s support and kind wishes.

“I’m now ready to play again.”

Woods will be coming to Tucson for the third straight year that WGC Match Play has been in Marana and each time it seems his presence stirs more excitement.

Sharing equally in the excitement are the Conquistadores, who have supplied valuable volunteer work to Tucson pro golf for several decades and who reap benefits for charity. McDermott said ticket demand already had been “wonderful,” but . . .

“Now more kids than ever will benefit,” she said, referring to some proceeds going to children’s charities.

The long-range weather forecast for Tucson is mostly sunny with temperatures in the 80s by midweek.

The official lineup – all 64 qualifiers appeared last year – will be announced at 3 p.m. Tucson time Friday. The official bracket will be given Sunday.

Woods’ competitors were happy to hear he is coming.

“He was ready to go weeks ago,” Stuart Appleby said at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. “I don’t think he needs to do a couple of laps around the track. He’ll be on that horse and he’ll be whipping it.”

The timing of Tiger’s return could not be better for the PGA Tour, which has seen television ratings plunge after the world’s No. 1 player had to miss the second half of last season, including two majors, the Ryder Cup and the FedEx Cup playoffs.

The last shot Woods hit was a short par putt on the 91st hole of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla, Calif., to beat Mediate and capture his 14th major, which Woods described as “probably the best ever” under the circumstances.

He had surgery after the Masters last year to repair cartilage damage in his left knee, and while preparing to return for the U.S. Open, suffered a double stress fracture in his left leg. He began hitting short irons toward the end of December, and friends such as Mark O’Meara and John Cook said he had been playing plenty of golf over the last few weeks at his home course in Florida.

Woods will be under even greater scrutiny when he returns at Match Play, a tournament that is unpredictable even with good legs. The eight-month break is the longest he has ever gone without playing, and there are questions of rust and how much he has modified his swing after the knee surgery.

“He’s not looking to just participate,” said his swing coach, Hank Haney, who added Woods would not return until he thought he could win.

Tiger’s return could last only one day. He could also advance to the weekend, where Woods might face as many as 36 holes a day.

“I didn’t think he would return at Match Play because the media would be all over him if he lost in the first round,” Appleby said. “But if Tiger lost in the first round, it would mean nothing to him. He’ll be looking for competitive rounds.”

Woods also has an endorsement contract with Accenture, and he was to be in Marana next week for a corporate dinner.

PGA Tour member Kenny Perry believes expectations will be minimal because of Woods’ first tournament in eight months, and the fickle nature of match play.

“I think it’s awesome,” Perry said. “The economy is down. We need something to boost us up. And there’s going to be a gazillion reporters there, so it will be fun to be around. That place is going to come to life.”

Perry also figures that Woods will do his part.

“I think he’ll be ready to rock,” Perry said. “When he comes back, he’s always raring to go. He must be spittin’ nails right now. I think he’ll be better than ever. He’ll probably kick our butts like crazy. Let’s face it. People play differently when they’re playing him.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Match Play officials: Tiger’s return means more ticket sales

Continued from 1C


Where: Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, Marana

When: Wednesday-March 1 (Practice begins Monday)

Tickets: 571-0400

TV: Wednesday-Friday, noon-4 p.m., Golf Channel; Saturday-Sunday, noon-4 p.m., NBC


> Catch our special Match Play wraparound section Saturday, featuring tentative first-round matchups, a hole-by-hole preview of the new Ritz-Carlton course, and miniprofiles on the world’s top 64 golfers scheduled to compete as well as the first alternate.


Ranking: No. 1 Born: Cypress, Calif. Age: 33 Ht./wt.: 6 feet 1, 185 pounds College: Stanford Turned pro: 1996 Pro wins: 89 PGA wins: 65 Majors wins: 14 Match Play record: 31-6

Notable: Defeated Stewart Cink for the Match Play title last year at the Gallery in Marana, after surviving a playoff win over Aaron Baddeley in the third round. He won the U.S. Open in June before missing the rest of the season following knee surgery.

Did you know? He was the highest-paid professional athlete in 2007, having earned an estimated $122 million from winnings and endorsements.

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